Time Tracking

In our high-tech society, few business operations use a manual timekeeping procedure. A favorite of the entrepreneur who provides services at multiple locations for a multitude of clients is a call-in time tracking service.

This automated service has dual roles. Billable time is recorded in order to invoice the client at a later date and hourly time is tallied on a timecard for payroll processing. An employee will call a designated phone number from any location to “punch in.” Upon completion of a job, a second call allows the employee to “punch out” thereby closing out the assignment. However, this system isn’t without its drawbacks; one of which is its lack of employee supervision.

On the occasion that a timecard appears to have exceeded the allotted time for an assignment, a business is confronted with a dilemma. The actual cost to the client will show a discrepancy in the proposed cost and the payroll will be over budget. A solution to the problem may be to provide a more accurate estimate of time in future proposals. However, a common problem is an employee failing to follow the proper procedure in reporting time.

A disobedient employee may pad his/her time by calling in with a cell phone before reaching the destination and after leaving the location thus increasing his paycheck as well as the client’s billable time. A benefit to using an automated time tracking system is its ability to reveal the source of a call.

A thorough of review of timecards in addition to enforcing a policy to have all employees call in from a landline at the location where the work is taking place will ensure that company time is tracked properly and honestly.

Ultimately, clients will be satisfied and payroll expenses will be on budget.

Employee Spending

Preventing misuse of employee company credit cards and monitoring employee spending could be a major component in cutting costs if abuse of your reimbursement policy is present. Verify receipts are actual company expenses and collect reimbursement forms at scheduled intervals rather than random requests from employees.

Was that dinner on Friday night business related? Was the last toll over the bridge en route to a business meeting? However small reimbursements may be, multiple offenses could damage your bottom line.

Consider setting credit limits on company cards and track expenses diligently. Adhering to this policy and procedure may reveal where attention is required without having to make budget cuts.

The Weekend Challenge

Taking two days out of your week to refrain from frivolous spending is a challenge worth every penny. Doing this on a monthly basis will surely increase your savings if you put the cash away. Spending it later defeats the purpose.

Before starting any challenge it’s important to be mentally prepared. Once you’ve decided to commit, prepare for moments of weakness triggered by boredom, temptation, and restlessness. Having a plan will help and below are a few tips.

  1. Plan ahead and make it your mission not to spend any money over the next two days (except for essentials like fuel and groceries). No coffee runs, impulse snacks from the 7-11, or random shopping trips. Tell friends and family so that they don’t tempt you into attending costly social events. Plan free activities to keep yourself busy.
  1. Work on that home project you’ve been putting off for months or give your house a thorough cleaning. Not up for work? Relax. Garden or lounge in the backyard and enjoy the fresh air.
  1. If you’re a social butterfly, you don’t have to convert to being a hermit. If you skip Saturday night out, invite your friends over for Sunday brunch. Make it a potluck where each guest contributes a food item. You’ll save on groceries and time and still enjoy your friends. Or just invite them over for coffee and chit-chat.
  1. Living simply doesn’t equate to confinement. There are plenty of outdoor activities free of charge. To name a few, take your dog to the park, go to the beach, hike, exercise, or volunteer.
  1. Reconnect with your loved ones or enjoy quiet time on your own. Take up a hobby, prepare home-cooked meals, or fire up the grill and cook whatever is on hand. Use the opportunity to clear out your fridge.
  1. Contemplate the past week and plan to make room for self-improvement where needed in the coming week.
  1. Unplug and take a nap.
  1. Focus on the end result. On Monday morning you’ll know that you’ve saved money and, perhaps, started the process to correct a destructive overspending habit.

After completing this challenge, you’ll have practiced self-discipline; a useful skill for any healthy habit you’re trying to achieve.

The Swap

Raising children is expensive. You’re providing shelter, food, clothing, and saving for a college education for their future. Small savings on the lesser priorities will help your household budget stay on track.

Consider the toy swap. No doubt, kids love toys. They also tire of them quickly. When replacing the old with new, consider networking with other parents and swap one of your child’s toys for one of theirs. The toy that bores your child is a brand new one to another child.

You’ll make a small dent in your budget and connect with other families. And your children will be part of the transaction in playful way.

Overspending

If you keep a household budget, the story of your life can be read in its line items. Mortgage, rent, utilities, insurance, groceries, savings, etc., are itemized to guide you through the year prudently. The problem arises when temptation creeps in. Suddenly your budget is buried in “miscellaneous” purchases. These are impulse purchases and the goal is to avoid these splurges and keep your money in your pocket.

There are telltale signs of overspending. Your credit cards are maxed out to compensate for the negative cash flow. You can only afford the minimum payment on credit card balances. Your spending habits leave little cash to pay your monthly expenses. And a big one, the stress of it all is damaging your health, mentally and physically. The financial and emotional damages are reversible. Here are a few simple steps to save your credit score and put you well on your way to financial freedom.

If you haven’t already, create a budget. If you have one, take some time to make improvements if it’s not working. Take one month to analyze where your money is going. In addition to your monthly expenses, track every purchase. Be sure to include take-out dinners, social events, and your daily coffee run.

Compare the actual costs to your budgeted line items and assess the variances. You may find you need to cut back on entertainment to make bigger payments on credit card balances. Knowledge is power; utilize your budget to improve your spending habits.

Use the cash-only method. Pay yourself a fixed amount in cash on a weekly basis. This is your spending money to be stretched as far is it could go over a seven-day period. Each payday, fund just enough to your checking account to cover your expenses, including necessities such as fuel and groceries. Use your debit card to pay for these items. You’ll know what you need from your budget. Every dollar should be allocated to an expense.

Your goal is to get your checking account down to zero (or as low as you can without accruing bank fees) until the next payday. At the end of the month, if a surplus is left after paying your bills, transfer it to your savings. The goal is to spend only what you need. If there’s no cash available, you won’t spend it.

Consider leaving credit cards at home. You’ll find once your credit card balances are paid off, you’ll have the freedom to make cash purchases. You’ll also see your savings grow at a faster pace.

Practice delayed gratification. Small rewards at scheduled intervals will help motivate you to keep your new spending habits going strong. If you have your eye on that new lawn mower, work it into your budget. Break down the cost into monthly installments over a short period of time. Saving this way will allow you to make the purchase in cash while paying down your debt. You can work any future purchases into a budget be it next year’s vacation, dining out once a month, or a day at the spa.

A little planning, self-discipline, and structured spending will go a long way. When you review your budget at the end of the year, you’ll notice a significant savings and a decrease in debt. Your actual totals, with a slight increase, will be your budget for the following year. The difference being, you’ll have already conquered your habit of overspending.

Rule of Thumb

Be conservative when planning to purchase a new home or searching for an apartment. Budget no more than 30% of your gross income on a mortgage or rent payment. This leaves room for other debt and living expenses in addition to building a savings fund.

With a good credit rating, your mortgage may be approved at a higher percentage rate. Keep in mind just because it’s been approved doesn’t mean it’s affordable. Live beneath your means to prevent becoming “house poor.”

Savings Tip

Pay yourself first. Even if you’re paying down debt, make an effort to deposit a small amount into your savings. Whether it’s $5 per paycheck or 20% of your gross pay, take this small step first: invest in yourself.

Figure the amount you can afford before paying your monthly bills and having spending money. Work your savings into your budget giving it top priority. This might require a few cutbacks such as brown bagging your lunch or making your own coffee in the morning instead of stopping in your favorite coffee shop on the way to work.

If this is difficult, get into the habit by not having access to it on payday. If you’re enrolled in direct deposit, set up a split deposit to your checking and savings accounts. Another option is to have automatic transfers made to your savings. The trick is to not have the cash on hand.

Another helpful strategy is to have your checking and savings accounts set up at different banks. That way transfers to an account may take up to 2 days whereas transfers within the same bank are immediate. The easier the access, the more temptation. Get used to living without it and eventually you won’t miss it.

This is about putting yourself first for your future.

Budget Tip

It’s a good idea to overestimate your monthly expenses and underestimate your monthly income. This ensures you’ll have enough to cover any unexpected expenses. It also enables you to put away the surplus for a rainy day fund.